Nashville suffered a gutting draw against Houston the last tie these two teams played. Can the Blue and Gold improve the result on a trip to H-town?
Opponent: Houston Dynamo (4-6-7)
Time, Location: Wednesday, Oct. 14, 7 p.m. CDT • Houston, Texas
Weather: 82ºF, 3% chance of rain, 60% humidity, 10 MPH SSE winds
Follow: MLS MatchCenter • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch • Listen: MyTV30 or NSC website stream (locally), ESPN+ (out-of-market) • 94.9 Game2 (English), 96.7 El Jefe (Español)
Non-nerd stats: 19 points, 1.12 PPG (9th West) • 1.4 GF/gm, 1.6 GA/gm
Nerd stats: -0.15 xG Power (17th MLS), +0.17 G Power (10th MLS). +0.32 “Luck.” • +0.12 Offense (12th MLS), +0.28 Defense (21st MLS). +0.51 home advantage.
Vegas odds: Nashville SC +295, Draw +250, Houston -105
Match officials: Referee: Nima Saghafi. Assistants: Nick Uranga, Matthew Nelson. Fourth official: David Gantar. Video assistant: Rosendo Mendoza. Assistant VAR: TBD
Injury report: Michael Salazar (out).
In the time since these two teams last played – barely over two weeks ago – Houston has gone 1-2-0, with the lone win coming against FC Dallas (despite being down man the entire second half) with losses to Sporting Kansas City and Inter Miami. Their form has basically continued on the trajectory it had been taking before the game against Nashville. That form has largely been poor (ironically, Houston is performing a little more poorly to the advanced numbers, but has moved up the table in the time since) since the departure of winger Alberth Elis.
Here’s what I wrote about the offensive personnel in advance of the game in Nissan Stadium:
Elis’s former partner on the wing, Darwin Quintero, has carried much of the load and will probably bear an even larger burden over the rest of the year, with midfielder Memo Rodriguez – the more attacking of the CMs in a typical Tab 4-3-3, for those who are familiar with his (relatively defined and simple) tactical approach from watching USYNTs over the years – and striker Mauro Manotas tasked with much of the finishing. Ariel Lassiter and Niko Hansen will likely rotate through the opposite winger position.Sept. 26
It should come as no surprise that not a lot has changed there: the team created pretty well but couldn’t finish against Miami, couldn’t do much of either against SKC, and was mostly fine against Dallas even in an adverse gamestate. It’s worth noting that Manotas (who started against Nashville) has been in and out of the lineup since, and did not play against Miami. He’s not on today’s injury report, and nor is Memo Rodríguez (who had “questionable” status going into Fort Lauderdale, but started and played 84 minutes).
The big(ger) change has been in the quality of the defense, which has taken minor strides forward (including the Nashville game) – but minor strides only take it from “very poor” to… “still very poor.” There has been a little bit more rotation from this set:
[L]eft back Adam Lundqvist, right CB Aljaz Struna, defensive midfielder Matías Vera, left centerback Maynor Figueroa, and right back (and ephemeral Boy in Gold, before being traded for Joe Willis) Zarek Valentin are, in descending order, the team’s minutes leaders among field players.Sept. 26
That quintet has mostly stayed together in the time since: they started against Nashville, and while Vera, Valentine, and Figueroa each of a game of rest in the intermediary (all in the win over Dallas, though Valentin came off the bench), they remain the first-choice defensive cohort in Tab Ramos’s typical 4-3-3 formation. They were decent against Nashville – as you may recall – and SKC, but very poor against Miami and the man-down situation makes bad numbers against FCD look understandable. The backline benefitted from poor finishing in both of those games, however. Some of that comes down to goalkeeping, when the shots on-target are considered: Marko Marić has shaved .05 off his GA/xGA number in the past four contests, putting him on the cusp of the top five in the league (among keepers with at least 900 minutes).
Injury report: F David Accam (out), F Domiinique Badji (out), F Daniel Ríos (out), D Ken Tribbett (out)
Disciplinary: D Alistair Johnston (red card suspension)
We shall begin with the player who’s a lock starter… but unavailable this evening. Nashville SC knows what to do without Alistair Johnston at right back – Eric Miller began the season as that position’s starter, while Brayan Beckeles and Jalil Anibaba have both played there, as well. Miller and Anibaba both came off the bench Sunday evening after Johnston’s dismissal, with the former a like-for-like replacement and the latter filling in at centerback. It is the opinion of this site that Anibaba is the best player of the three, but matchup-wise, Gary Smith could choose for a more offense-happy option (represented by both of the other guys). Anibaba’s experience in Space City (38 starts for the Dynamo 2016-17) has me predictin’ he’s the man.
The return of central midfielder Aníbal Godoy from the injury list should provide the opportunity to move back to the preferred 4-2-3-1 after the flat 4-3-3 used in the past three games (though the SKC game used principles of both). That move would be further facilitated by additional rest for attacking midfielder Hany Mukhtar, who was healthy but not in the squad for the last two games as Smith prepared him for the final push, an improvement in form from winger Randall Leal, andthe healthy return of forward Abu Danladi.
I still expect fluidity across that front four, with Mukhtar, Leal, Danladi, Alex Muyl, and Derrick Jones all capable of playing the various positions. Obviously, that’s five guys, as at least one is left out of the starting lineup (I assume Danladi, who is working back from injury still, and can provide pace off the bench).
Of course, that leaves one elephant in the room. Will designated player Jhonder Cádiz see the pitch? He was available but left out of the squad Sunday, but a couple extra training days, a flight that’s barely any longer (an hour and a half versus an hour and 15 minutes), and a home-stretch coming up with five days off – a rarity this season – before four of the next five at home. Debuting next week still feels most likely.
“I don’t think it’s a case of he’s not prepared to play,” Smith said after Sunday’s game. “The player’s desperately keen to show what he’s about. But with a quarantine period, and such a period of lack of playing time – I think his last game was in March – so maybe I’m being overly cautious with the lad. But I want to make sure that he’s in the right place, and to be quite frank, it was always going to be a push for this one.”
Coming off the bench this week seems more of a possibility, but it still feels the second of three options with “wait it out until next week” the favorite.
Keys to the game
- Don’t have two goals/opportunities ruled out for questionable offside calls and not even checked by VAR. Still the wrong tactical choice for Gary Smith last time around, IMO.
- Help out your backup RB. Whoever is in the lineup, there’s a reason that he’s not starting over Johnston (when available). If it’s Anibaba, Nashville needs the right-sided players in the forward line to carry a little more heft on offense. If it’s one of the others, Alex Muyl will almost certainly stick to that side to help put out fires.
- Go at the backline. Nashville SC’s recent games have not been fruitful from a goal-scoring standpoint, and only somewhat fruitful from a chance-creation standpoint. However, the Boys in Gold have been able to get forward in transition moments and ask (not quite enough) questions of the opposition without actually generating a shot at times. Against an iffy backline, that’ll probably be the method, and potentially a productive one (as it was in the previous game against Houston, offside flags notwithstanding).
- Draw them forward. This goes along with the previous point, and is a less-sexy one because it draws to mind a bunker, but this Houston team is one that’s going to get frustrated and throw numbers into the attack the longer they don’t score. That should open up these transition moments.
NSC official site story and what to watch for. The Tennessean‘s Drake Hills on Nashville’s difficulty with talented wingers – something(s) they’ll see tonight. Nashville Post on the “score goals” aspect of soccer, which IMO couldn’t possibly be correlated with winning. Broadway preview. AP brief. Field Level Media preview.
Nashville was reasonably dominant las time around (for most of the contest, at least), and felt hard-done by the result. Houston is an entirely different team at home, though.
- Manotas opens the scoring from a set piece within the first 15 minutes of the game.
- The Boys in Gold respond with Derrick Jones atoning for his miss against Minnesota, poking home a throughball from Mukhtar.
- A back-and-forth battle for the better part of 60 minutes sees no further scoring.
The game ends in a 1-1 draw.